When they begin to torture the trees: State violence against people living with disabilities

Two stories, one in England the other in the United States, speak to the torture to which people living with disabilities are subjected, all in the name of justice. In England, a Black, 17-year-old, non-verbal British boy, a child who had never left England, was identified by the police as Nigerian and sent to immigrant detention, to prepare for deportation. In the United States, Kelly Masten, 38-years-old, has the mental capacity of a six-year-old. Kelly Masten is also non-verbal. Her grandmother called the police to ask for help. The police came, took Masten away, not to the hospital but to jail, where she stayed for ten days. When she finally was sent to hospital, she was in a coma and covered in bruises.

The English story is that a Black, 17-year-old, non-verbal British boy was in hospital in Kent. He ran away, apparently made it to Manchester, where the family used to live, then turned around to return to London. Without money, papers, shoes, phone. He was picked up on the train, for fare violation. The police took him and, according to their report, `interviewed’ the non-verbal Black child who `informed’ them he was Nigerian. And so of course they flipped him over to immigration. Of course. The non-verbal child, who had never spoken in his life, spoke to the police and told them he is Nigerian, the non-verbal child who had never left England.

The United States story is that Kelly Masten, 38-years-old, with the mental capacity of a six-year-old, and non-verbal, bit her grandmother, who is her legal guardian. Her grandmother called 911. The police arrived, assured the grandmother that, after a medical examination, her granddaughter would be taken to John Peter Smith Hospital, in Fort Worth, Texas. She wasn’t. Instead, Kelly Masten was dumped in the `notorious’ Tarrant County Jail. The grandmother told the police that Kelly Masten suffers from a condition that causes violent seizures and that she had to take her medications regularly. The police said they would make sure. They didn’t. When Kelly Masten refused her medication, the staff said, “Fine.” Ten days later, when she finally went to the hospital, covered in bruises, she was in a coma. Kelly Masten is, today, in a coma.

The boy’s mother and sister are furious. The woman’s grandmother and sister are furious. The State claims,  on one hand, nothing wrong really occurred, and, on the other hand, it was an unfortunate but solitary failure. There was no failure. There is a practice of torture. Black, nonverbal child shows up, clearly in distress … send him to Nigeria. Nonverbal adult woman shows up in distress … send her into a coma.

Alice Walker saw this, in her poem aptly entitled, “Torture”

Torture

When they torture your mother
plant a tree
When they torture your father
plant a tree
When they torture your brother
and your sister
plant a tree
When they assassinate
your leaders
and lovers
plant a tree
When they torture you
too bad
to talk
plant a tree.
When they begin to torture
the trees
and cut down the forest
they have made
start another.”

Who will finally start another forest?

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Jenny Hozer / MoMA)